The Wisconsin Assembly Republicans have now introduced a Constitutional amendment to change recall law. This has been talked about for a while but Assemblyperson Robin Vos finally sponsored it and brought it to the floor. It should be no big surprise to anyone. It fits the pattern of the entire last year in Wisconsin politics–if something threatens to undermine the Republican agenda they change the rules as fast as they can to prevent that from happening. Losing a majority in the Senate or losing the executive office would put a halt to the unyielding conservative agenda that has been pushed through with no attention paid to history, citizen voices, or the idea of compromise.
Is Robin Vos seriously concerned about recalls hurting Wisconsin citizens? It’s not very likely. He will say that the large number of recalls in the last year are disruptive and a waste of taxpayer money, even though the cost is miniscule compared to all the money dished out like an all-you-can-eat buffet at a corporate banquet. Robin Vos is not looking out for the taxpayer. He is looking out for his fellow legislators and his corporate overlords.
The proposed amendment would change the state Constitution so that officeholders can only be recalled for criminal activity or violations of a state code of ethics. Currently, no reason is required. The citizens can recall the Governor, a judge, Senator, county board member, or others because they don’t like the job that they are doing. It was designed to protect the citizens from an officeholder acting against the best interests of the state, even if what that officeholder is doing is perfectly legal. The Governor can be impeached for illegal activity, or perhaps arrested, and maybe he will be, but that is not the purpose of recalls. Recalls are for the public to remove someone from office who is perceived to be unethical, undermining the values of the people, undoing years of progress, or any other reason that is meaningful enough that the people act to remove them from office.
But it was not designed to be easy. Of the states that allow recalls Wisconsin’s has one of the higher thresholds as far as the number of signatures required, with a number equal to 25% of the voters in the last election for that office. In Scott Walker’s case that meant getting over 540,000 signatures in only two months, the amount of time allowed to collect them. In addition the law does not allow an official to be recalled until they have served in office for at least one year. This is to prevent a recall effort being launched simply out of sour grapes for losing an election.
Because of this, prior to this last year only two state legislators had ever been recalled and lost in Wisconsin history, despite the law being on the books for a hundred years. A recall is not an easy thing to do and it should not be.
On the other hand it should not be made more difficult just because Republicans may lose seats and possibly the top two offices in the state. Looking backwards they didn’t have an issue with the recall laws in the recent past. According to a December 3, 2011 article by John Nichols in The Nation Scott Walker was one of the state legislators squarely behind efforts to recall both United States Senators from Wisconsin, Democrats Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl. He was also for the recall of Milwaukee County Executive Tom Ament and was elected to the position when Ament resigned. Republicans also tried and failed to recall Governor James Doyle. During those efforts there were no cries from Republican quarters about the need for a more stringent recall law. It is only now that they have seen the light, once two of their own were defeated in recalls last year, and now that four more of their own, as well as their Governor and Lieutenant Governor, may lose their offices in this year.
Republicans are scared. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald may act like he is invincible but he is facing a very challenging race against Lori Compas, a populist woman who led the recall charge against him and is starting to look like David to his Goliath. Their fear is understandable. Nearly two million signatures were turned in to force the current recalls–and not a single one of them was from an out-of-state agitator. Despite the constant refrain from Governor Walker and his associates the bulk of the protesters the last year were Wisconsinites and the recall petitions proved it. If they really believed their own talking points those numbers must have shocked them.
They also have to face the fact that despite their best efforts Republicans could not get a single Democrat removed from office last year, even though they did get enough signatures to force several elections. They could not even gather enough signatures this year to recall any Democrats. This, combined with the petitions turned in against them, should make them realize just how upset the people of the state are at them. They are still howling in the wind about unions and sour grapes, but the reality is that the people of the state are speaking, loudly, about the way the Republicans have conducted themselves.
The inability to gather enough signatures this year or defeat any of the Democrats recalled last year shows how difficult it really is to recall anyone. The Democrats only succeeded on a couple of the many that they tried, too. Citizens in this state have respect for clean politics and open and honest government. Most Wisconsinites are inclined to let elected men and women serve out their terms. Signing something as important as a recall petition is a sacred act and not something to be taken lightly.
Wisconsinites also believe that amending the Constitution is not something to be taken lightly either. It, too, is not an easy thing to do. It, too, is sacred. For Robin Vos to succeed the proposal must pass both the Assembly and Senate, in the same form, in this legislative session and the next one, and then be voted on and passed by the electorate. It generally takes a couple years to go through this process and if the people feel strongly enough about the issue after that much time they will vote that way. But it can be difficult to even get it to a vote because the legislative makeup changes and getting it passed through the legislature two different times is not easy.
If Robin Vos is concerned about saving taxpayer money and truly concerned about what the citizens of the state care about he would withdraw this measure and focus on creating jobs, something that has barely been touched upon despite constant rhetoric about jobs as the most important issue in Wisconsin. And if he and his fellow Republicans truly cared about jobs they would work on a compromise mining bill instead of attacking those who oppose the bill that failed last week for legitimate reasons. A Constitutional amendment on recalls at this point is simply a distraction from the real issues facing the state.